Even more on Painting

These posts are an effort to understand how painting has become a suspect art form, freighted with assumptions of its strong & irredeemable connection to everything that was wrong with art before the post-modern revolution. These posts are also an attempt to come to term with my own passionate attachment to what in current “discourse” is  referred to in a derogatory way as modernist painting.

Modernist painting (and less so sculpture) has been singled out as encompassing the cultural sins of the current epoch and its repudiation an expiation. However, despite the cleansing fire of post-modernist ire (and irony) the cultural sins continue to grow from strength to strength.What are these sins? Let me count the ways.

The Market Monster

The first is, of course, that the standard for gauging excellence in art is the marketplace. The post , On Theories of Art ended with the comment, “Perhaps  the assumption of objectivity in art is clearly unattainable because art is about feelings rather than reason, but feels the need to be justified by some form of reason other than marketability. it’s a quandry.” As in all aspects of life in a capitalist oligarchy, the market has poisoned relations between artists and their work and artists and viewers.

Though written in 1975, Rosenberg’s Art on the Edge, many of his ideas remain highly relevant. cannot be overemphasized. Rosenberg calls the influence of the marketplace on the direction of contemporary art a “…a process of transformation whose end is not in sight” (1) and over 40 years later, this transformation continues to mutate. For an artist, alternatives to the market are either art-as-criticism, (parody, irony, subversion) or making art for oneself. The irony is that the mode of ironic, subversive, parodies of art has been absorbed by the state so that institutions of contemporary culture sponsor shows that that will make them seem opposed to themselves. “To create the illusion of an adversary force, everything that has been overthrown must be overthrown again and again”. (2)

This relates to a discussion in the previous post describing the current epoch as not a changing culture but a culture of change. The ideology of constant change has, like the end of history, eliminated real change. It’s Groundhog Day.

Perhaps the lesson here is that it is not going to be possible to get art out from under the market’s poisonous influences through constant renunciation of perceived artistic sins that went before. It seems naive to believe that one art form or another can have any effect on a powerful and pervasive economic system that manipulates every aspect of human life. Mondrian’s, belief that his work was a “plastic vision” that would help to set up ” …a new type of society composed of balanced relationships” is like a poignant glimmer of a previous culture’s optimism about the human imagination.

  1. Art on the Edge: Creators and Situations, Harold Rosenberg,1975, p. 8
  2.  ibid p. 90

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